Right well you asked for it, and my poor soggy vegetable garden continues to resemble a rice paddy more than anything I could actually imagine digging, so now’s the time for a spot of virtual gardening instead as I consider what went well, what went badly, and what’s going to be on the seed order for next year.
I think the first lesson is that I planted WAY too many potatoes this year. When I’d harvested the maincrops, I sorted out the damaged ones to eat ‘immediately’ while the rest got stored in the shed – and we’re still eating the damaged ones (now going a bit sprouty). We really don’t eat that many potatoes. On the plus side, they keep better than expected and I’ve managed to donate some to neigbours and family. Even so, I think I’ll be scaling back on the tatties next time round.
That said, potatoes – along with red and normal onions – were about the only thing that really did that well this year. Suddenly the Scottish diet makes a lot of sense: it consists of things that will grow even if it rains solidly for about 9/10 of the year. Nobody moves to South West Scotland for its mediterranean climate but even so, the weather this year has been spectacularly damp and miserable, even in May when we traditionally have our summer. Anything that required pollination wasn’t happy as a result. The broad beans and peas grew fine but we got way less of a crop than we’ve been used to. And the french beans? Well, the french beans got planted out the day before the huge gale and never really recovered. Although I planted more, it was always a game of catchup and they barely flowered, let alone provided any beans. Still, they fared better than a friend’s runner beans – he planted them out on the morning of the gale when they had two nice big true leaves each, sticking out on either side like little wings … I think you can guess the rest.
Without much in the way of flying insects about, at least my brassicas didn’t suffer so much from the cabbage whites, which was good for the romanesco at least. Here endeth the good news. The purple sprouting broccoli, which are supposed to overwinter and then sprout in the spring, unsurprisingly mistook the summer for the winter and flowered early. The cabbages were simply remorselessly munched by the slugs (as were the squash) and anything left just bolted. I still have five broccoli plants left which will hopefully sprout again in spring. The pumpkins flowered and then all the little fruits just rotted on the vine. The sweetcorn flowered and then promptly blew over (you’d think a wind-pollinated plant would be a bit more resistant to a bit of wind, but no). Did I mention at all that it was a bit damp and breezy this year?
One thing I’ve not suffered from this year at least is monster parsnips, for which I can’t blame the weather (for once) as it was because I completely failed to thin them out so we have a mixture of normal sized and completely weedy parsnips. In fact, if I’m honest, many of my gardening woes have been as much to do with user error than the weather and the slugs. I always, always, always plant everything too soon and then have lots of leggy desperate seedlings on every windowsill. I never stay on top of the weeding or the slug patrols, and I always plant things too close and then can’t bear to thin out the babies. I have never got the hang of soil nutrition and end up with multi-storey garlic (we ate it anyway). I get the veg I deserve, frankly.
I shan’t quite be giving up though. I work on the principle that I have to fail three times before I completely give up on any crop. With persistence, I managed to grow some carrots, although I really can’t honestly hand on heart say that it was worth the effort. I also managed to learn to like beetroot, although not as efficiently and quickly as the garden mice did. They basically demolished the entire second sowing and I suspect they’ll be quicker to get to them now they know what they are. Short of shooing the cat off the sofa and up to the walled garden, which is easier said than done these days, I’m not sure exactly how to tackle that problem.
I also got third-time lucky with my leeks. After a first year in which I grew a single solitary (but delicious) leek, and a second year in which I grew rather more, and equally delicious but tiny leeks, this year I have actually grown a fair number of reasonably sized leeks. In fact, rather a lot of them. I planted out a full bed’s worth of little ones and then, as each crop either got harvested or turned up its toes, I transplanted some of the little ones into the space that was left. I now have basically four beds of leeks dotted around the garden (which makes digging it over a little complicated). We’re getting rid of them slowly but surely though. I’m chalking up ‘too many leeks’ under ‘nice problem to have’.
The surprise success of the year has been perpetual spinach (or leaf beet) which seems to substitute fine for real spinach, although Jane Grigson, she who knows everything about vegetables, is a bit sniffy about the stuff. It grows, that’s the main thing. I tried real spinach and got about one plant. Our landlord plants it as well and then doesn’t eat it as much as we do so we’ve been supplementing ours with theirs with some success. In fact it’s been so remarkably unremarkable and reliabe, I don’t seem to have taken any photos of it or blogged about it or did anything but grow it and eat it. I suppose that counts as a win, in my garden. It’ll have to because without a spreadsheet any more I have no other way of keeping score.
So there you go. Every year I start off with great plans and enthusiasm and a determination that this time I will succeed with everything and win prizes for my produce and every year the garden mostly wins. If it ever stops raining, I shall head out and – working around the leeks – finish digging over and manuring the plot. And then I’ll get the seed catalogues out and start dreaming again. Only this time, I know I’ll be more organised and less optimistic and harder working and more diligent and it really WILL be different in 2012